First American test tube baby: Elizabeth Comeau tells her story

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Elizabeth Comeau
First test-tube baby in U.S.
Monday, October 4, 2010; 2:00 PM

A British biologist won a Nobel Prize on Monday for his work developing the controversial techniques that led to the world's first test tube baby and has since enabled infertile couples to have more than 4 million babies.

Elizabeth Comeau, a reporter and news producer at the Boston Globe/boston.com, was once the most famous baby in America after her birth in 1981 following in vitro fertilization. She, herself, has just given birth to her own child and was online Monday, Oct. 4, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss her life experiences.

Story and video: In her own words.

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Elizabeth Comeau: Thank you everyone for chatting with me today! I welcome any and all questions about myself, IVF, or anything else for that matter.

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Fairfax, Va.: How do you feel about Edwards and Steptoe winning the Nobel prize for in vitro? Do you feel any emotional attachment to the story today or is it something that is very simply incidental to you? Has your life been different as a result of being born in vitro or has everything been pretty normal for you?

Elizabeth Comeau: Obviously I am very happy these men go the award.

Elizabeth Comeau: Without IVF I would not be here, and I have met Bob Edwards (Steptoe died quite a while ago) so I am personally very happy for him. I don't know that my life has been different because of IVF simply because this is how I have lived my life for 28 years now.

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washingtonpost.com: Video: In her own words

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Washington, D.C.: I understand you yourself are a mother now. Did you have your child by normal means? Would you recommend IVF to those who have difficulty conceiving?

Elizabeth Comeau: I am a mother now... I just had my son Trevor in August. I did have him "normally" meaning not via IVF but when I was younger I always thought I'd have an IVF baby simply because that was how my parents did it. I would not recommend IVF simply because I am not a doctor, however, IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies are very viable options for many couples who have trouble.

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Alexandria, Va.: Have you regretted being the "poster child' for IVF. Is that essentially what you have been all these years? Also, have you had any complications due to having been conceived and brought to term this way?

Elizabeth Comeau: I don't consider myself the "poster child"

Elizabeth Comeau: But, my parents and I have always said that we put ourselves out there so that people can learn that IVF and other procedures are available for folks who need help.

I am perfectly healthy as any other child born "normally" would be.

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Washington, D.C.: What is your response to the Pope for not supporting and recognizing IVF as a means to get pregnant?

Elizabeth Comeau: Well, I haven't had a chance to discuss it with him face to face, but, I think that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and if someone does not approve of IVF that is their right to do so. However, I also think that couples should not be looked down upon simply because they looked to technology for help.

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New York, N.Y. How is your mother's health these days? Many studies have shown that women who go through IVF are at risk of developing certain cancers. Wondering if she was affected.

Elizabeth Comeau: My mother is also perfectly healthy and always has been other than the fact that she needed IVF due to ectopic pregnancies.

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Washington, D.C.: Why are there so many problems that couples have conceiving?

Elizabeth Comeau: Again, I am not a doctor, but many things can go wrong... think about it... one sperm has to get to ONE egg... and it takes perfectly healthy couples with no fertility issues a bit of time to get pregnant. there can be male factor fertility issues, women who have had illness can have their fertility go down... stress can be a factor. Any number of reasons. It's a miracle anyone can get pregnant with all the variables out there.

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Annapolis, Md.: I saw those pictures of you in the video for when you were born. That goes back to 1981, I see. Did your mother have any more children?

Elizabeth Comeau: How embarrassing!! My parents felt so lucky once they had one child that they decided not to try for another one... plus having one child now myself even just one can be a handful!

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Washington, D.C.: Do you believe in more advanced IVF procedures we're hearing about in which couples can choose the gender and other physical characteristics of their offspring?

Elizabeth Comeau: I don't agree with being able to pick the gender and things of that nature... such options were not available when I was born. However, some people may agree and I try to keep an open mind considering the technology that made me possible was very controversial when I was born.

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New York, N.Y.: Many women are very hush-hush about admitting that they went through some form of assistive reproductive technology in order to bear a child. Any thoughts?

Elizabeth Comeau: If a woman has lost a child before looking into assisted reproductive technologies it can be obviously very difficult... letting people know they are trying again can be very scary. I think it is a very personal choice about whether or not you want to share how you get pregnant. The important thing in my mind is winding up with a normal, healthy child in the end.

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Fairfax, Va.: This morning I had an ultrasound and my husband and I got to see our 8 1/2 week old baby conceived through IVF. I just wanted to thank you and your family for sharing your story, making it easier and more accepted for us to start our family.

Elizabeth Comeau: That is wonderful and so exciting! I am so happy for you and your husband! the people to truly thank are the doctors who work so hard every day

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Washington, D.C.: Is the procedure legal in Massachusetts? I understand from your article that your parents had to get it done in Virginia.

Elizabeth Comeau: It is now legal in Massachusetts, yes. However, at the time back in 1981 it was not.

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Chantilly, Va.: Do you know Louise Brown?

Elizabeth Comeau: I have never met Louise, but have wanted to. I am sure our personal stories are very similar and probably quite different as well.

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McLean, Va.: Why did you decide on journalism as your career? Did it have anything to do with the IVF thing and how your life has been?

Elizabeth Comeau: I've been around reporters my whole life -- my first presser was at 3 days old-- so it's basically in my blood. I started realizing at a very young age that journalism is a wonderful profession because you can tell the stories about others lives that people cannot -- or don't feel comfortable-- telling themselves.

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Washington, D.C.: It is my understanding that the second generation of other animals conceived by IVF (so, the child of one created by IVF) are infertile. Are you concerned about the future health and reproductive capability of your child? Thank you.

Elizabeth Comeau: I would like to see the study that says that, because I have not read that so no, it is not a concern of mine. As far as I know my son and his children will have no problems having children.

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Randolph, Mass.: What is your opinion on the current trend with popularizing of IVF producing high multiple pregnancies? (i.e., "octomom" and the Gosslin family)?

Elizabeth Comeau: Several years ago I attended a conference about how to combat such practices from having that many multiples in one pregnancy. It is definitely a concern that responsible doctors are working to figure out... how do you balance a woman wanting so many eggs put back and with what the doctor is concerned about with the mother's health and the health of the children. The Gosselins and "Octomom" are very lucky that their children are healthy and well, and while I do not wish them any ill will, I think it can be very dangerous.

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Arlington, Va.: Since you grew up with a lot of media interest, how do you react when media puts so much attention on other people, especially children? Do you feel you were able to get enough privacy in your life?

Elizabeth Comeau: I am very lucky that my parents and I were never disrespected by the media... meaning when we said no to an interview, people did not keep pushing and respected our privacy. I think people who practice responsible journalism would respect and not exploit children.

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Washington, D.C.: How old were you when you learned that you were conceived this way? Did your mother tell you? What was your reaction?

Elizabeth Comeau: I was very young... I starting asking the normal questions and my mother told me she couldn't have me without the help of very special doctors. When I got a bit older (maybe 7 years old) I watched the Nova documentary of my birth with my doctors, who explained everything in great detail. My reaction was that I felt very loved and grateful that both my doctors and parents worked so hard to have me.

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Boston, Mass.: What do you think the best way is for a child to find out he or she was conceived using IVF? I know you were a special case and probably knew early due to the media attention, but for your average child, when do you think is best to tell them? Or should they even be told, in your opinion?

Elizabeth Comeau: Go Red Sox! I do think a child should be told, and the earlier the better. I feel like I always just knew the circumstances of my birth... and I think however parents feel comfortable telling their child is how they should do it. If a book or video or a trip to the hospital works, go for it!

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Rockville, Md.: What an inspiring story, and so wonderful you have a child now, too! My husband and I also went through ART (though not IVF) and are blessed with a daughter. It really has helped so many people.

For Alexandria, a clarification: she may have been fertilized that way, but she was brought to term normally, in her mother's uterus. IVF babies develop and are delivered normally.

Elizabeth Comeau: Thanks for your comments and the correct clarification!

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Washington, D.C.: What's the difference between IVF and the other type of conception described.

Elizabeth Comeau: there are many different options now... too many for me to describe in detail! However, this site is a wonderful resource: http://www.asrm.org/

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Orono, Me.: A little off the normal line of questioning here, but is motherhood any different than you expected it to be?

Elizabeth Comeau: My mother is from Orono! :) I love motherhood and I don't know that I had any expectations... I am a lot more tired than I thought I would be! Who knew a child so little could keep a woman so busy! But I know totally understand why my parents tried so hard to have a child of their own. It's the best and my son is just a joy (even at 3am when he's crying and wants food)

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washingtonpost.com: American Society for Reproductive Medicine

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Berwick, Maine: What was the reaction of your co-workers to the news you were pregnant? Presuming they knew your story beforehand.

Elizabeth Comeau: My co-workers were just excited for me... and of course wanting to know how long I'd be out on maternity leave! I work with wonderful people at Boston.com and The Boston Globe so even if they did know my story (many did not) they were just excited for my pregnancy.... we journalists love passing around photos of our babies to the email lists in the newsroom....

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Boston, Mass.: What is the strangest question/comment you've received when some has found out you were the first IVF baby in the U.S.?

Elizabeth Comeau: Good question! I think the strangest is if I have any "special powers." I always had the urge to answer yes to that one, but sadly, I am quite dull.

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Elizabeth Comeau: Well, my time is up and my son is just about to wake up from a nap! Thank you all so much for your thoughtful questions today.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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